Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. HIS CHARACTER INDICATED. (Vers. 1-6.) In a few touches the temper and spirit of this new speaker are set before us.
1. His warm piety, which could not tolerate the confidence and the self-justifying spirit of Job. His sense of the greatness of God and his holiness is so profound that he cannot endure what seems to be the bold and haughty attitude of the creature. His feeling seems to be, "Let God be true, and every man a liar!"
2. His spirit of justice, which was indignant at the unfairness of the friends, who held Job for guilty, and condemned him without being able to give an answer to his plea. These are two grand elements in a noble character. Without zeal for God and his righteousness, our sympathy for the suffering may degenerate into a sickly and immoral sentimentalism. But without feeling for the wrongs of the oppressed, without the passion for justice, our zeal for God will become an unholy and pernicious fire. This last has been the cause of many of those terrible persecutions which have defaced the history of the world. Let us beware in our spirit and temper of these extremes-and avoid either dishonouring God through a weak pity for mere suffering, or being cruel to men through a zeal for God. Zeal is a good servant, but a bad master; the spring of heroic deeds or of dreadful crimes.
3. His modesty and respect, shown by his keeping silence in the presence of his elders, so long as they might desire to speak. As the shade to a figure in a picture, so does modesty impart a strength and beauty to the character; it adds to virtue the charm that chastity adds to beauty. But there is a limit to every grace; and modesty becomes a weakness if it leads a man to withhold truth from the world, or to keep his mouth shut whoa flue "word in season" ought to be spoken.
II. THE EXPLANATION OF ELIHU'S INTERFERENCE (Vers. 6-10.) His modest sense of his own youth and his respect for their age held him back in the presence of his seniors. But, on the other hand, conscience and the inspiration of God's truth within him impelled him to speak. This little fragment is very instructive, and yields several important lessons. There is a lesson of prudence and tact. The speaker should ever seek to gain the good will of his audience, by laying aside every appearance of assumption or conceit, by testimonies of graceful respect for his audience. Especially should this rule be kept in mind by those who have the most important truths to deliver. Before sowing the seed let the ill weeds be rooted out, and the soil be well broken up. We must try to soften the minds of our hearers as a preparative for impressing them. Augustine says, "He who strives to persuade others to goodness should neglect none of these three things: to please, to teach, to sway their minds; thus he will be heard gladly, intelligently, obediently. But higher than these is the lesson of conscientiousness - attention to the voice within. The Spirit of God finds its truest echo in the conscience. All distinctions of persons and of age fade away in presence of this supreme truth. For wisdom depends not on age, but on the Divine illumination. Well for us if we can forget in whose presence we are speaking, whether younger or elder, richer or poorer, wiser or more unlearned, because absorbed like Elihu in the sense of God's truth and the desire for his glory. Let no man despise thy youth" (1 Timothy 4:12). If young men have a sound knowledge of Divine things, the elder need not be ashamed to listen and learn from them.
III. THE JUSTIFICATION OF ELIHU'S INTERFERENCE. (Vers. 11-22.) In this passage his character and spirit are further unfolded in points that are worthy of admiration and imitation.
1. His love of reason: He waited expectantly to hear some satisfactory reply from the friends to Job's clear arguments and statements in self-vindication. He expected either that they would confute him, or that they would candidly admit they were worsted in the strife. "We found wisdom (in Job); God can strike him, not man." His wisdom is so superior to ours that God only can drive him from the field (ver. 13). This is a lesson on the morals of controversy. Meet your antagonist with resin for reason; and, when you can do so no longer, be willing to own yourself beaten. Reasonableness and candour, the desire to persuade others or to be persuaded one's self of the truth, - this is the chivalry of controversy; these are the jewels that shine amidst the cloud of words; the precious balsam-drops that these woeful wars distil. A sullen conspiracy of silence is the retreat and fortress of the dishonourable and the coward.
2. His depth of heart. Elihu is not convinced by Job; his mind teems with matter of deep and living truth. His is no shallow logic of the schools, which falls powerless upon the true heart armed with the justice of its cause. His is no fool's bolt, soon shot, and leaving him in helplessness. His bosom is like a skin of new wine; he is bursting to tell forth all that experience and reflection have taught him concerning the truths of life. "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks." Let us harvest the instruction of time, lay up a good store of heart-memories, that we may ever have a good and useful word to speak in season. Let us take care of those strong impulses that they are true and pure before we speak; but never hesitate to speak when we are conscious that God is inspiring us. To be led by the Spirit, we must walk in the Spirit.
3. His fearless sincerity. He has no respect of persons when truth is concerned, reverential as he otherwise is in the presence of his elders. He will not flatter; he does not understand the base art. The fear of God is before his eyes. "Flatterers are the worst kind of traitors," says Sir Walter Raleigh. He who is true to God and to himself will never distil this poison from his tongue. In Elihu, then, we have the picture of what a man should be, of what we all should desire in a friend - fairness, honour, candour; sympathy and affection based upon the only sure foundation, love of truth, piety toward God.
IV. ELIHU'S SPECIAL APPEAL TO JOB FOR A PATIENT HEARING. (Job 33:1-7.) Here we see the following traits:
1. Intense earnestness. (Vers. 1, 2.) For these opening words, which might seem to our Western ears like a "beating about the bush," are in fact Oriental phrases by which the speaker calls the most solemn attention to, and lays the greatest weight upon, what he is about to speak. Such opening formulae may be found in Matthew 5:2; Acts 10:34; 2 Corinthians 6:11. Let it be clear in one way or another to those who listen that we mean what we say, that we are not talking to fill up time, or using words to conceal the void of thought.
2. Perfect sincerity. (Ver. 3.) His sayings am the straightforward utterances of his heart, very different from the stale and secondhand commonplaces of the three friends. True eloquence, like the substance of every virtue and every art, is in the heart. The bullet finds its way to the mark, according to the old legend, that has been first dipped in the marksman's blood. Words that come from the heart will reach to the heart.
3. The sense of dependence upon God (ver. 4), for all light and wisdom, which, while it makes a man humble, makes him truly confident and strong. God's Spirit has made him. He appeals to no special inspiration, however, but simply to that genuine human wisdom, that common sense which he recognizes to be a Divine endowment. It is a mark of true piety to own the presence of the Divine Spirit in all the ordinary as well as the extraordinary gifts of intelligence. It is this that chastens, sweetens, and sanctifies the use of every bright talent of the mind and heart.
4. Fellow-feeling. (Vers. 6, 7.) He does not pretend to stand nearer to God than the fellow-man he has arisen to comfort and instruct. He is made of the same clay, moulded by the hand of the Divine Potter. Therefore Job has not to fear an unequal struggle with Elihu as he has with God. Would that all teachers would remember this! The artificial distinctions of life, as prince or peasant, lettered or unlettered, mean but little; those of talent, character, and attainment have a certain value; but the common constitution God has given us is the great ground of appeal, the great source of authority. Those are the best teachers who most deeply read and interpret this common nature; and every truth must at last be certified, not by the ipse dixit of a dogmatizing teacher, but by the utterance of the universal heart and conscience. - J.
I. IN AN UNDUE ASSUMPTION OF EQUALITY WITH AGE, The "spirit" that is "in man" and "the inspiration of the Almighty," is assumed to give them "understanding" equally. At least Elihu puts himself on their level, though he afterwards affirms their inferiority.
II. IN A DESPISAL OF THE TEACHINGS OF AGE. So the young lips are ready to affirm, "Great men are not always wise: neither do the aged understand judgment."
III. IN AN UNWARRANTED SELF-CONFIDENCE. How ready is youth to give its judgment! "I also will show mine opinion."
IV. IN AN EAGERNESS TO GIVE EXPRESSION TO OPINIONS. "I am full of matter, the spirit within me constraineth me," etc.
V. IN A PRESUMPTION OF FREEDOM FROM PREJUDICE. "I know not to give flattering titles." Thus speaks youth in a confidence which is so often the effect of ignorance and inexperience. The true attitude for youth is
(1) lowliness and humility;
(4) reverent regard for age and for the counsels of experience. - R.G.
Job 2:13). They relapse into silence after their painful controversy with the suffering man. We feel a sense of relief, and breathe freely now that their dogmatic delusions are done with, and we have silence after the storm.
1. IT IS WISE TO KNOW WHEN TO BE SILENT. We cannot attribute much of this wisdom to the three friends. They would have been more commendable if they had practised it throughout. Still, they were not wholly senseless and heartless. They were able to perceive at length that no more words of theirs would help their case. Part of the art of speaking is to perceive the time for ceasing to speak. It is difficult for many people to come to an end of their words. Let us note some of the times for silencing our speech.
1. When we have no more to say. A man should only speak because he has something to say, never because he has to say something.
2. When our words are not heard. If we speak to heedless ears we waste our breath. It is vain to pour out words that our auditors cannot or will not drink in.
3. When our words are not accepted. If we cannot persuade men by what we say, we shall not do so by mere reiteration. We may find that no words will move our hearers; then further words are wasted on them. If we are altogether out of sympathy with our audience we cannot benefit them by adding words to words.
4. When the time for action has arrived. It will not be wise for the general to be haranguing his men when the enemy are already in the field. Words have their place; but this is not to usurp the place of deeds.
5. When another should be heard. Elihu has been waiting patiently while the old men have been talking. Now his time has come. Talkative people are tempted to be selfish. St. Paul ordered that when many wished to speak in the Church at Corinth each should have his turn, one giving place to another (1 Corinthians 14:30).
II. SILENCE IS MOST VALUABLE WHEN IT FOLLOWS A STORM. This second silence has not the beauty of the first silence of sympathy. But it has a deeper significance in some respects.
1. It is a relief from distressful controversy. It is painful to be perpetually arguing with our friends. When the controversy rises to angry words the best thing is to break it off and relapse into silence.
2. It affords time for reflection. If anything worth remembering has been said, it is well that people should have time to think over it. Probably our religious services would be more fruitful if people would only have patience to allow of pauses for quiet meditation.
3. It is a means of establishing peace. When words only irritate, peace will be best secured by silence. If the three friends wished to be reconciled to Job, their wisest course was to wait for the heat of discussion to cool down.
4. It is itself a blessing. Other voices speak in the silence. Then the unseen world draws near to us. After the storm is hushed the heavens open. We all need more silence, especially after times of strain and difficulty. - W.F.A.
I. A YOUNG MAN. The elders have spoken; now is the time for youth. Wisdom does not wholly reside with age. In the present day an American freedom is doing away with old-fashioned restraints upon youth, and young people are enjoying a prominence which was once regarded as not becoming. Whether the change is wholly profitable may be gravely questioned. But most assuredly it is not without some advantages. There is an elan, a freshness, and a vivacity which only the young can contribute to life; all the world should be thankful for the breezy vigour that accompanies youthful activity, for all the world is the better for it.
II. A CONFIDENT MAN. Elihu waited in modesty while the old men were speaking; yet there is a touch of satire in his tone of humility. For, in fact, he has a supreme contempt for the droning commonplaces of the elder advisers. Even Job comes under his lash. He hits out all round. It is exceedingly difficult for young people to believe that they are not infallible. The confidence that is natural to youth tends to develop into censoriousness.
III. A KEEN-SIGHTED MAN. Elihu had some ground for his confidence. He could see that the three friends had blundered most outrageously. Job, too, was in error. Elihu comes forward with a new truth. The friends should not accuse Job; Job should not accuse God. The sufferings of Job were not penal at all; they were medicinal. Thus this young man lifts the question on to a new stage. He it is who introduces the great thought of the disciplinary character of suffering.
IV. AN INSPIRED MAN. Elihu claimed a direct inspiration - not one that is peculiar to seers like Eliphaz, and that comes in startling vision, but one that is vouchsafed to man as man. He claims to have a share in this inspiration himself. Thus he too would speak for God; and to a certain extent he is right. Hence the truth and value of his words. We can only reach truth when we touch God. We must be free from worldly maxims and selfish prejudices, and open to the voice of Heaven, if we would possess Divine truth. - W.F.A.
I. DEFERENCE IS DUE TO AGE. We all feel that this is appropriate, even though age does not always appear in a light that fully justifies its claims. On what grounds does this deference rest?
1. The experience of age. Certainly age has had opportunities of gaining wisdom that are not afforded to youth. Whether a good use has been made of those opportunities is another matter. Still, it is scarcely possible to pass through the world without learning something, if only from one's own blunders.
2. The maturity of age. There is a certain rawness about youth. Apart from its acquisitions from without, the growth of the inner life of a man should ripen, and time should mellow his temperament.
3. The dignity of age. Age is not always dignified; still, the fatherly relation implies a certain rank that is only found with added years. We must respect the orderly arrangement that gives places of honour to years.
4. The achievements of age. The old hero may have become a feeble invalid. Yet he still wears the scars of the battles of bygone days, and we must respect him for what he has done.
5. The infirmities of age. These claim considerate and sympathetic treatment, not slighting and scornful disregard.
II. MODESTY IS BECOMING IN YOUTH. This is especially fit on two grounds.
1. The claims of age. If these are to be respected, youth must stand back for a time. However it might desire to assert itself, youth here finds itself confronted by an obstacle that must not be rudely thrust aside. It may chafe against the restraints, and think them most unreasonable. Perhaps it would be well for the young to consider that they will be aged some day, and will need the consideration shown to age. Meanwhile their advantages are greater than those of the aged in many respects, so that the attempt to surround a naturally melancholy lot of increasing infirmities with honours is really a pathetic confession of the loss of many of the solid boons of life. The young need not envy the honours of age, seeing that they have the powers and opportunities and delights of the sunny spring-time of life.
2. The imperfection of youth. New and untried powers promise great things, but they need regulating and guiding. It is possible to do immense harm by rushing forward ignorantly and without circumspection. It is wiser to begin quietly, and feel our way by degrees.
III. NEITHER THE DEFERENCE DUE TO AGE NOR THE MODESTY BECOMING IN YOUTH SHOULD BE ALLOWED TO INTERFERE WITH DUTY. Old men should be careful not to suppress the generous enthusiasm of youth. They should rather mourn that they have lost it, if it is no longer with them. No venerable position can justify the obstruction of good works. The young have to learn to combine a suitable modesty with fidelity to truth and right. There will be no progress if the constitutional timidity of age is permitted to stand in the way of every proposed improvement. Deference does not mean absolute submission. After all, the consequences of actions are much more important to the young, who will live to reap them, than to the old, who will soon leave the world. The future is for the young; the young must be allowed to shape it. - W.F.A.
I. THERE IS A DIVINE INSPIRATION OF MAN. Elihu affirms its existence. The old men had grown stiff in thought, worldly, and dim-sighted. If ever they had quivered beneath the touch of inspiration this was in bygone days, and they had forgotten the experience. But the young, enthusiastic Elihu is alive to spiritual influence. Here we are at the root of religion, which does not spring from man's worship of God, but from God's touching man.
II. THIS INSPIRATION IS FOR ALL MEN. Elihu is not thinking of the special and rare vision of the seer which Eliphaz had described as so awe-inspiring (Job 4:12-16). He is thinking of something more simple, more natural, and more common. God does not only teach us indirectly by means of prophets and intermediate messengers. He has not left himself without witness in the heart of man. Conscience is the voice of God in the soul. Reason in man is a spark from the Logos, the great Word and Reason of God. Whenever men read truth they are in contact with the ever-present Spirit of truth. We do not live in a God-deserted world, nor in one that is only visited at rare intervals by Divine influences. God is nearer to us than we suspect. Job has been crying out for God; Elihu shows that God is not far off'
III. THE COMMON INSPIRATION OF MAN IS SEEN IN VARIOUS FORMS. It does not make every man a prophet, much less does it always confer the gift of infallibility. In Bezaleel it was a faculty for artistic workmanship (Exodus 35:30-35). Samson found it a source of physical strength (Judges 13:25). God gives his Spirit in science, leading men to truth; in art, teaching what is beautiful, and helping men to discriminate between meretricious, hurtful art and true, fruitful art; in daily life, affording guidance in perplexity and strength in difficulty; in religion, not only under the Jewish and Christian dispensations, where indeed it is most gloriously developed, but in every truly religious life. God has not abandoned India, nor did he abandon Greece or Egypt. Even amidst the monstrous delusions and the gross corruptions of heathenism the still small voice of God may be detected. Whatever is good and true in the world is an inspiration of God.
IV. CHRISTIANITY DEEPENS AND QUICKENS THE INSPIRATION OF MAN. Joel predicted the time when God's Spirit should be poured out on all flesh (Joel 2:28), and St. Peter claimed that that time had come on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:16-18). St. Paul tells us that all Christians together constitute a temple of the Holy Ghost (1 Corinthians 6:19). If the Spirit of God is felt in the world, much more must the gracious Divine presence be enjoyed in the Church. Every Christian is, indeed, an inspired man. He is not infallible. But he has a Guide to truth, a Comforter in distress, a Strength for service, and a Grace for holiness. - W.F.A.
I. THE SENSE OF RELIEF.
1. In utterance of what is strongly felt. It is difficult to restrain powerful emotions. Passion inspires speech. We long to tell out what burns in our hearts. Difficulty of utterance often arises from deadness of soul - often, but not always, for many of the best men have no facility of speech. Still, the surest road to eloquence is through emotion.
2. In confession of what is deeply distressing. It is hard to hide a dark secret. Criminals have been known to confess their evil deeds simply because they could not endure to keep silence about them. Great sorrows find relief in utterance. While the sufferer suppresses himself in stony grief his reason is in danger; let him weep and speak, and the worst anguish or his soul will find some relief. Prayer in great distress is not only appealing to God for help; it is also relieving the overburdened soul by utterance. It is much to be able to unbosom one's self to God, to open out sad secrets to Heaven.
II. THE EXERCISE OF POWER. No doubt the lower motive of desiring to feel his power was influencing Elihu, though he would have been too vain to have admitted it. Some people delight to hear the sound of their own voices. The importance and publicity of speaking before others is found to be attractive. When the speaker discovers that he can move an audience by his eloquence, a new fascination lays hold of him, and if he can influence by means of speech, he will find a pleasure in wielding so powerful an instrument. But there is great danger in all this, lest the speaker should idolize his own eloquence, and try to influence others merely for the sake of making them feel the weight of his utterance. It must be remembered that there is great. responsibility in speech. A hasty utterance may be followed by a long repentance, when the speaker will give worlds to recover his mischievous words.
III. THE ACHIEVEMENT OF GOOD. A good man will desire to speak for the profit of others. He who knows God's truth will long to declare it to others. So great a treasure is not to be hidden. For Christ's sake and for the world's sake it must be made known far and wide. The Christian should feel that a serious obligation is upon him to lead others to share in those privileges of the gospel which all need, and which are designed for all. St. Paul felt an awful necessity laid on him, and exclaimed, "Woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel!" (1 Corinthians 9:16). The lepers of Samaria felt that they would be guilty of a great sin if they feasted in the camp of the Syrians, and did not let the starving city know that there was abundance of good outside the gates (2 Kings 7:9). But nor only is it a duty to preach Christ; it is a great joy. The body may be wearied by the effort, but the soul will be refreshed. There is a cheering and invigorating influence in making truth known; this is greatest when the work is to bring the knowledge of God's love in Christ to sorrowing men and women. - W.F.A.
e.g. Acts 24:2.
I. TEMPTATIONS TO FLATTERY.
1. To win favour. This is the lowest motive with which to flatter; it is without any valid I excuse; its character is wholly selfish.
2. To avoid harm. This is also a selfish motive; but it may be urged by fear and encouraged by weakness. The flattery of a tyrant is not creditable to anybody concerned; but it is one of the certain effects of tyranny on weak natures.
3. To give pleasure. Without any deep design of gain, agreeable people wish to please those with whom they are associated. A certain foolish kindness may help the flattery.
4. To express humility. Very humble people are tempted to ascribe good qualities to others in contrast with their own unworthiness.
II. THE SIN OF FLATTERY. Elihu justly repudiates the idea of flattering any one, though he does so with a needless ostentation of independence. Flattery is bad in many ways, and involves many evil things.
1. Falsehood. This is the very first element of flattery. You praise a man to his face beyond your true thoughts of him.
2. Cowardice. If the flattery is indulged in in order to propitiate a powerful tyrant, the flatterer humiliates himself, and appears in the miserable character of a cringing coward
3. Godlessness. Flattery of man tends to a disregard of the law and will of God. If the dignity and rank of a person is made too much of, he is really becoming to us almost a god; we are in danger of giving to him the deference which should only be offered to our Maker.
III. THE EVIL CONSEQUENCES OF FLATTERY.
1. The overthrow of justice. If a man "accepts persons" he will neglect justice. Instead of considering what is right and fair, the flatterer considers what is pleasant. Thus right and equity are set aside.
2. The destruction of confidence. Flattery is sure to be discovered, and the habit of flattering will be soon recognized. Then words of admiration cease to have any meaning. It becomes impossible to give true honour to a person, because this cannot be distinguished from the false honours which the sycophant heaps on his patron. It is no longer possible to know whether approval, support, and loyalty are maintained or not. Traitors hide under the cloak of flattery.
3. The anger of God. Elihu talks somewhat brusquely about his Maker taking him away. It is a trait of his self-confidence to be quite at home in speaking of God. Yet there is a truth in his words. God cannot endure falsehood and injustice. His favour is not won by flattery; the flattery of men is sure to be detected by God, and therefore the flatterer must lie under the disfavour of Heaven, even while he enjoys the favour of his earthly patron. - W.F.A.